College Credit Plus Discussed By Board of Trustees

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A program to bring high school students more college credits before they leave high school was a point of conversation amid final budget discussions for the Ohio University Board of Trustees.

Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit said Thursday in a Joint Academic and Resources Committee meeting that  the College Credit Plus program has been a benefit in terms of making college more affordable, but has had some other budgetary impact university officials didn’t expect.

“You can see it’s attractiveness in affordability,” Benoit told the committee. “But there are some unforeseen implications to this program.”

The impact of the program, which allows high school-aged students to take college-level classes on campus and online, has been seen not only at the Athens campus, but at the regional campuses as well, Benoit said.

In a memo provided to the board by Deborah Shaffer, Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer, she writes that undergraduate financial aid for Fiscal Year 2016 was forecasted to be $2.1 million higher than previously budgeted, in part because of an increase in financial aid at regional campuses “due to the impact of College Credit Plus.”

Increased state grants were also noted because of the program, which Shaffer said partially offset the larger hit to the budget.

The program has also been a budgetary concern at the high school level, with Athens City Schools superintendent citing it and other post-secondary enrollment options as reasons the district has to stretch its budget and its personnel.

“If the students are taking classes at places other than Athens High School, some of our class sizes for courses we are currently offering become very small…in some cases less than 10 students,” Superintendent Tom Gibbs said in an April email to parents concerned about personnel cuts to the school.

Gibbs said in the 2014-2015 school year, 65 students took post-secondary classes at either Ohio University or Hocking College. In the 2016-2017 school year, that number rose to more than 135, he said, and it is expected to keep growing.

Benoit voiced concern to the board about the implications the program had for the students as well. While the goals of the program are to increase college readiness and give students a chance to take courses at a reduced rate, she said some students “might not be ready academically or socially” to begin college.

The rate at which students can take college credit under the program could also affect the university budget in the long run, depending on how many hours of courses students take.

“If they can start in seventh grade, they can potentially take a remarkable amount of courses (before they graduate from high school),” Benoit said.

The board asked what plans the provost had to study the program, and what other provosts in the state have said on the issue. Benoit said university provosts, including her, plan to “collect data” on the program to develop a longterm plan for student success and protecting the budget.

The board is expected to pass the 2017 budget at Friday’s meeting at the Lancaster branch of OU, which includes a “commitment” to student affordability, including the second year of the Ohio Guarantee, the Signature Scholarship Program and “student success initiatives.”